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Have fleetwide catches stayed within quotas?

Indicators: Ratio of Catch to Quota

Key Findings

  • The groundfish fishery was underutilized, in terms of catch to quota, before and after implementation of the catch share program.
  • Fishermen in the Sector Program caught higher amounts of fleetwide quotas than fishermen in the common pool fishery.
  • From 2010 to 2016, the catch share program had no large quota overages, while the common pool had three.

Interactive Charts


This indicator shows the amount of fish caught compared to the total catch limit.

In Their Own Words

Although some of the quantitative data analyzed for this indicator exhibited clear trends, it was challenging to discuss the relationships between observed data trends and implementation of the respective catch share programs. The Measuring the Effects of Catch Shares project team believed that those stakeholders most involved in the fishery, either as active participants or as representatives of an involved coalition of participants (e.g., sector managers in the Northeast), would be able to provide insight and help to explain trends seen in the existing quantitative data. The following quotes were selected to illustrate some of those perspectives and highlight trends such as effects on small vessels, the effect of avoiding “choke stocks,” fleet diversification, and product quality. The individual quotes do not represent findings or conclusions for this indicator, nor do they represent a consensus across any category of participants.

“I have a black bottom on the boat and I went and got some white boot tar paint and I put on it about half way down from the water line, “No codfish allowed.” This one guy came down and he is standing there cocking his head. He says to me, “How are you going to read that if its underwater?” I said, “You don’t understand. That is for the codfish to read.””
~ Fisherman

“Well, I mean they haven’t been able to use haddock as a direct fishery. When they go target haddock they catch choke species like codfish and stuff like that. The choke species suffocate them from totally capitalizing on the haddock.”
~ Fisherman

“I think there has been a more willingness to adopt certain types of ideas, at least try it out, because they realize they do need to become somewhat more selective. How do you target pollock without catching cod? Or how do you target haddock without catching cod? Everything is about not catching cod. Yeah, I think there has been advancements that guys are more willing to at least try out.”
~ Industry Representative

“The bigger guys, I mean they can go out. They have enough fuel capacity to be able to get off the fish that they shouldn’t be catching and move somewhere else. And if they’re fishing on some of the George’s stocks that are in far better shape. They go fill their boat full of haddock.”
~ Government

“There are fishermen that are really hurting. When catch shares came in some of the bigger boats came in and scooped up whatever quota there was, right out in front of them. If stocks had been healthy, it wouldn’t have happened.”
~ Government

“Well, I’m of the opinion that the new management system has been an equal opportunity constrainer. I mean I know that information shows that the impacts seem to be more on the smaller boat fleet than on the bigger boat fleet but when we started there was a lot more small boats than there were big boats. I know from experience a lot of people that were under 50 feet that were fishing under days at sea are no longer fishing today. If they were cut down to 25 days at sea and a 200 pound trip limit with a two for one counting in the Gulf of Maine, probably those same boats would not be fishing. I don’t think it’s because of the design of the system. If the stocks are going down, the regs are going to get tighter, whether it’s days at sea or quotas.”

“Well, the big boats can take advantage of the healthy stocks, which is haddock, haddock and reds right now. The inshore small boats, the little 38 to 40 footers, last year they got hammered hard. I mean Gloucester, I mean they had a huge day boat fishery down there for codfish. Guys go out and get their codfish and come back in. Gone because of the Gulf of Maine cod restrictions. The same thing happened to our boats here this summer. They couldn’t fish inshore because of the codfish. There is a crap load of cod out there. So these guys couldn’t fish because they didn’t have the quota for it. So if you’re out there and you have an observer on board, you catch codfish and you’re screwed. You shut down your sector for the year.”
~ Processor

“We also closed some areas that we thought were high potential catch areas. We subsequently reopened those this year because we found that we still had enough cod quota and it wouldn’t be a problem. So we self-imposed restrictions on our members to avoid cod. They also have to report their Gulf of Maine cod catch daily. If you find this hot spot of cod you report that [to the sector manager] and then he broadcasts it to everybody through email to try to stay away from this area, unless you happen to have some cod allocation.”
~ Industry Representative

“With, what are there, 19 different species or something like that? And they all fluctuate relative to one another. So in one year you have one or two choke species, and then two years later it’s a completely new set of choke species that you hadn’t planned for.”
~ Fisherman


Baseline: Before Catch Share Program

Prior to implementation of the Northeast Multispecies Sector Program, the groundfish fishery was managed with effort limits (Management Framework), complicating any analysis that attempts to track longer term changes in catch-to-quota and compare trends before and after the onset of the sector program. Moreover, the catch levels upon which effort limits were based were targets rather than limits, were not available for all species consistently through baseline years, and spanned multiple sectors of the fishery. For example, target total allowable catches for some stocks accounted for the sum of commercial landings, plus discards, recreational landings and Canadian landings, while for other cases only commercial landings were available for monitoring. As a result of these data discrepancies, comparisons before and after the catch share program are not very meaningful for this indicator.

Fishermen under days-at-sea management were not managed to strict catch limits, and they did not have strong incentives to avoid overfished species. However, fishermen in the groundfish fishery had difficulty catching large amounts of available fish due to few days-at-sea or low quotas for overfished species like Atlantic cod.

While the catch-to-quota data before and after the catch share program cannot be compared, comparison of catch targets to actual catches is useful to provide context for the catch share period. Generally, abundant species like haddock were captured well below the catch targets, while high value species such as cod and SNE yellowtail flounder were captured near, or sometimes over, the catch targets. For instance, in 2009 only 7 percent of the GB haddock catch target was caught, while cod catches were over 75 percent of the catch target.

One reason for low catches relative to targets is that the management response to depleted species was to reduce the number of allowable days-at-sea, which prevented the fishery from catching abundant and healthy stocks.

Additionally, fishermen were limited by many other factors. Cod trip limits, area closures, the seasonal availability of species, weather conditions, low market demand for some species, and changing ocean conditions limited fishermen’s abilities to catch target species. The economic impacts of low catch-to-quota ratios during the baseline period are discussed in Financial Viability of the Fishery: Landings.

During Catch Share Program

The development of the Sector Program offered an option for fishermen to opt out of sectors and fish a “common pool” quota (Fishery Overview). The common pool accounted for less than 2 percent of the catch in the groundfish fishery. Fishermen in the Sector Program caught higher amounts of fleetwide quotas than fishermen in the common pool fishery. Since 2010, when the fishery first operated under annual catch limits and the Sector Program, quota overages have been infrequent and small. On average annual catch-to-quota ratios over all stocks have ranged from 51 to 67 percent for sector vessels and 22 to 52 percent in the common pool.

For the 16 stocks that had allowable catch for every year of the program, 10 stocks were fished at catches equal to or exceeding 50 percent of the quota, on average, in the Sector Program, compared to 3 stocks in the common pool. The higher degree of catch-to-quota balancing may be due to the greater coordination among vessels in sectors. For example, the members of some sectors coordinate fishing effort to reduce catches of constraining species ( Financial Viability of the Fishery: Landings). For the Sector Program, catch-to-quota ratios across stocks have fluctuated from roughly 50 to 70 percent. Still, some stocks were fished well below quota levels, most notably the GB haddock and yellowtail flounder stocks. The continued inability to harvest the allowable quotas for valuable abundant species is in part a reflection of highly constraining stocks with very low allocations, such as cod and yellowtail flounder (Annual Catch Limits & Financial Viability of the Fishery: Landings). Large catch overages did not occur for any stock in any of the catch share program years.

The common pool fishery has struggled even more to catch quotas and was less successful at avoiding large catch overages. The average annual ratio was highest at 53 percent in the initial year but declined to around 20 to 30 percent thereafter. Notably, in 2016 the low eastern and western Georges Bank cod quota allocated to the common pool (14 metric tons) led nearly zero catch of haddock, yellowtail flounder, and winter flounder in those regions. Overages greater than 10 percent were infrequent in the common pool and absent in the Sector Program. The common pool had three overages: witch flounder in 2010, Eastern Georges Bank cod in 2014, and Western Georges Bank cod in 2016.

Data Gaps and Limitations

Prior to implementation of the Northeast Multispecies Sector Program and Annual Catch Limits in 2010, catch-to-quota (specifically TAC in New England, as the annual recommended catch for a stock) information are not available in a format that will allow for informative or appropriate comparisons. From 1994 through 2009, the groundfish fishery was managed with limits on fishing effort, primarily by regulating the number of days that fishing vessels could operate (“days at sea”). These, in turn, were based on target Total Allowable Catch (tTAC) levels that corresponded to target fishing mortality rates. Comparing actual catches (landings + discards) to tTAC is difficult for at least three reasons. First, tTAC correspond to fishing years, which span May 1 to April 30, while catch estimates are based on calendar years (January 1 to December 31). Second, tTAC estimates for some stocks include discards, while those for other stocks do not. Because discard mortality can be substantial for some stocks (e.g., for ocean pout, discards are >95% of the catch during project baseline years), comparison of ratios across stocks is not straightforward. Finally, non-commercial catch (which is included in the tTAC estimates for some stocks) can be substantial for several stocks, but the focus of this study is the commercial fishery. For some stocks, such as pollock, recreational catch can comprise more than 15% of total catches in some years.

Further, the comparison of catch-to-quota between sector and common pool is based on distinct collections of fishing vessels. These collections change annually and could not be isolated for years prior to the catch share program. This lack of baseline data precludes a formal comparison that would identify whether there has been a unique change in catch-to-quota ratios among the sector program and common pool participating vessels.

There are some differences in sub-ACL (or TAC) stock allocations between the sector program and common pool components of the fishery. There have been no TAC allocated in any year for N. and S. windowpane flounder, ocean pout, halibut, and wolfish. Further, allocations of Southern New England winter flounder began in FY2013. In comparison, the common pool had allocated TAC for all species from 2011 onwards (but had no allocated TAC for the same set of stocks in 2010). For these reasons, we based our analysis only on stock/year combinations for which both sector and common pool components of the multispecies fishery had allocated quota.

Information Sources

Data were taken from final fishing year catch results, available at: http://www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/aps/monitoring/nemultispecies.html

National Marine Fisheries Service, Northeast Multispecies (Groundfish) Monitoring Reports for baseline and catch share program years. Available online: http://www.nero.noaa.gov/ro/fso/MultiMonReports.htm

Data compiled by the National Marine Fisheries Service Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office on quota and landings.

New England Fishery Management Council Staff provided invaluable advice and guidance in preparing these summaries. In particular, we thank Tom Nies, Executive Director NEFMC.

Updated: April 2018

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